What is a hashtag?

Social media has lots of jargon and three letter abbreviations. It’s a new language and of course that’s off putting. Those who understand it tend to throw the vocabulary around and that alienates those who are new to the scene. 

A number of my colleagues ask me what hashtags are so I wanted to explain and think it through. 

Hashtag has become a word that can enter conversation. 

“I’m so busy: Hashtag  stressed”

It’s as if we need a physical gesture like the inverted commas that used to be used to justify quotation style speech. 

But what is a hashtag?

I’ve found that this wee punctuation indicator is a number of things. 

  • It’s a filter. Or a Flag!

If you want to find something specific it can be used to track down a topic or conversation. ‘How is that different from just typing a search word?’ I hear you cry. 

Well the thing is, other people who are blogging or micro blogging (on Twitter for example) have decided that the word you are looking for is a focus for them too. 

So if the social place where you are searching is like a party, the hashtag is a shout out for people who also want to talk about your topic. I was at a party recently where I ended up talking about kayaking. 

It took a few moments to get there. With a hashtag I could have found people with a kayak conversation more directly. It’s like a flag. Imagine eavesdropping ‘Oh you’re talking about kayaking too!’

  • It’s an archiving device

So archive sounds like a dull word as does cataloging but we use archiving a lot. Or would like to. 

If I’m in my house on an average day I often wonder where stuff is. I need to find a set of correspondence for example. I can look in a variety of spots to find it. 

If I had a hashtag I could pull together a set of related stuff very easily. 

All my #eggs in one basket. 

  • It’s an address

If you want to draw attention to something you are posting then use a hashtag to specify people or topics where you want it to go. That’s also possible with an @ but with a hashtag you can ‘address’ a community or group of people. 

#NT2tEU is a useful tag. It links to teachers who are new to Twitter. 

  • It’s an appointment 

Hashtags are being used to draw people together. If a community wants to have a discussion they set up an appointment time with a hashtag. For example on Tuesday at 20.00GMT (don’t forget the time zone as we are international you know.) The community will be on line to share ideas or feedback. So the hashtag helps to locate the party or discussion. 

  • It indicates trends

Systems are in place to track hashtags to see what everyone is talking about. If a hashtag keeps cropping up then the topic has become significant. If you want to participate in something then you can look for a topical hashtag or find out about a news item. #Princegonetoosoon has been trending this week. In this example the hashtag became a way of expressing opinion too. 

  • So it’s a way of expressing opinion or viewpoint

In the Prince example, you can see that people start a hashtag that is a group of words suggesting their point of view. Sometimes these hashtags take off, sometimes they don’t. #havingabadday

So when should I use one?

If you post and want people to see what you’ve written it’s essential. The Internet is a huge place. Without the use of labeling mechanisms like hashtags, your comment or post disappears into the stratosphere like a puff of smoke. Depending on why you are posting that might be okay but if you want your voice to be heard then a hashtag is one way to make that happen. 

Also it can help you trace your post. So it’s a filing system. If you’ve been exploring a topic and finding on line resources, then posting the links to your feed will be more structured by use of hashtags with them. 

To group your post with the contributions of others, a hashtag makes the link or connection. It’s a way of participating. 

What’s your favourite hashtag?

How do you use them? 

Have you ever though of a great hashtag?

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